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- The Motor Boys on the Pacific - 10/31 -
"Run!" called Ned. "There's an opening at our backs now!"
"You couldn't go a hundred feet before they'd overtake you!" shouted Jerry. "Let's see if we can't frighten 'em. Take off your hats, jump up and down, and yell like mad. If we can force 'em to separate and go on either side of us, we'll be all right!"
He started to swing his hat in the air, and prepared to let out a series of yells in imitation of an Indian war-whoop.
"Don't!" cried the professor quickly.
"Why not?" asked Jerry. "It's the only way to stop 'em."
"I know a better, and a surer way," replied the scientist. "Get the rattlesnakes between ourselves and the cattle! Those steers will never go near a rattlesnake den, no matter how frightened they are, nor how badly stampeded! Quick! Here they come!"
The cattle were scarcely two hundred feet away, and were maddened by the sight of unmounted persons, something to which they were unaccustomed, and which thoroughly frightened them. The ground was trembling with their hoof-beats, and the rattle of the horns, as they clashed together, was like the murmur of cannibal tom-toms.
The professor grabbed Bob, who was nearest him, and swung the boy around, so as to get the nest of rattlesnakes between them and the steers. Ned and Jerry followed. The snakes, now all aroused, were rattling away like half a hundred electric batteries working at once.
Would the professor's ruse succeed? Would the steers be afraid to come over the deadly reptiles, to trample down the little group, which the animals probably took for some new species of enemy? These were questions which the boys waited anxiously to have answered. Nor did they have to wait long.
The foremost of the steers came within a few feet of the rattlers. Then something seemed to stiffen the cattle. They tried to stop short, but the press of the beasts behind them would not permit of this. For a few seconds it looked as if the impetus of the cattle in the rear would shove the others on, in spite of their desire to stop.
But now more of the foremost steers became aware of the den of snakes. Their instinct, their sense of smell, and, above all, hearing the rattling, told them the terrible danger that was in their path. More of the animals braced their forelegs to bring themselves to a stop, and all bellowed in terror. Then, almost as though an order had been given by some one in command, the ranks of steers parted, right at the point where the snakes were reared ready to strike.
To right and left the cattle passed, increasing their speed as they became aware of the danger they were escaping. The boys and the professor stood on the little eminence of land, as if they were on an island in a sea of cattle. The angry snakes hissed and rattled, but did not glide away, or what had proved a source of safety for the travelers, might have been instrumental in their death.
Right past them rushed the cattle, raising a dust that was choking. The four were enveloped in a yellow haze, as they stood huddled together. Then, the last of the steers galloped past, with a band of excited cowboys in the rear, vainly endeavoring to understand the cause of the stampede, and halt it. As they rode on like the wind, they waved their hands to the boys and Mr. Snodgrass.
"Well, I guess we can move on now," said Jerry, as the last of the steers and cowboys was lost in a cloud of dust that accompanied them. "I've seen all the beef I want to for a long time."
"That's the first time I ever knew rattlesnakes were good for anything," remarked Ned, as he backed away, with his eyes on the den of reptiles, as if afraid they would spring at him.
"They are more feared by animals than any other snake in this country, I believe," said the professor. "Luck was certainly with us to-day."
The professor successfully resisted a desire to capture some of the snakes for specimens, and soon, with the three boys, he was on his way back to the stalled train, though he did not make very fast progress for he was continually stopping to gather in some strange insect.
It was long past dinner-time when the travelers got back, but they found they were not the only ones in this predicament, for a number of the passengers had beguiled the tediousness of the wait by going off across the prairie.
"Let's get the porter to get us some sandwiches, and then we'll watch 'em get the train back on the track," suggested Jerry.
AT THE SEABURYS'
THE wrecking crew had arrived shortly before the boys and the professor got back, and there was a big crowd of passengers and train men around the laborers.
"Never mind eating," called Ned. "Come on, watch 'em. We can get a bite afterward."
"Not for mine," sung out Bob, as he made a dive for the dining car. "I'll be with you pretty soon."
"There he goes again," remarked Ned with a sigh. "I couldn't eat when there's any excitement going on. I want to see how they get the cars on the track."
"So do I." said Jerry.
They pressed on to where, by means of powerful hydraulic jacks, men were busy raising up the engine, which, because of its weight, had sunk quite deeply into the ground. The jacks were small, but one man worked the handle, which pumped water from one part of it to another, and elevated a piston, that, in turn was forced up with terrible pressure, thus raising one end of the ponderous locomotive.
When the wheels were clear of the earth other men slipped under them some peculiar shaped pieces of iron, so arranged that when the locomotive was pulled or pushed ahead by another engine, the wheels would slip upon the rails.
In turn each of the wheels of the engine and tender were so fixed. Then word was given the engineer of the relief train to back down and haul the derailed locomotive back on to the track.
"All ready?" called the foreman of the wrecking crew.
"All ready," replied the engineer.
Jerry and Ned, in common with scores of others, were straining forward to watch every detail of the task. They wanted to see whether the locomotive would take to the rails, or slip off the inclined irons, and again settle down upon the ground.
"Let her go, Bill," called the foreman to the engineer of the wrecking crew.
There was a warning whistle, a straining of heavy chains, creakings and groanings from the derailed engine as if it objected to being pulled and hauled about, then the ponderous driving wheels began to turn slowly.
"Stand clear, everybody!" cried the foreman.
At that moment Bob came running up, using the back of his hand as a napkin for his lips.
"There she goes!" was the loud cry.
As the crowd looked, they saw the derailed and helpless engine give a sort of shudder and shake, mount the inclined pieces of iron, and then slide upon the rails, settling down where it belonged.
"Hurrah!" cried the passengers, in recognition of a hard task well accomplished.
"Well, I'm glad that's over," announced the foreman. "Now boys, hustle, and we'll get the cars on, and the line will be clear."
It did not take long to get the cars on the rails, as they were lighter. The damaged engine was switched off to one side, some rails, which had been displaced when the train bumped off, were spiked down, and the wreck was a thing of the past.
"All aboard!" called the conductor. "All aboard! Step lively now!"
The relief engine was not a fast one, being built more for power than speed, and the train had to proceed along rather slowly. But the boys did not mind this, as they had plenty to talk about, and they were interested in the country through which they were traveling.
They arrived at Los Angeles somewhat behind their schedule, and did not leave there as soon as they expected to, as Professor Snodgrass wanted to call on a scientific friend, to learn something about the best place to hunt for horned toads.
"It's all right, boys," he announced, when he returned to the Los Angeles hotel, where the three chums had put up. "My friend says the vicinity of San Felicity, where you are going to call on the Seaburys, is a grand place for horned toads. Come, we will start at once."
They found, however, that they would have to wait until the next day for a train. They started early the following morning, traveling through a stretch of country where it seemed as if it was always summer. Back home there had already been evidences of fall, before they left, but here there seemed to be no hint of approaching winter.
"Oh, isn't this fine!" exclaimed Ned, breathing in the sweetly-scented air, as he stuck his head from the car window. "It's like reading about some fairy story!"
"It's better than reading it," said Jerry. "It's the real thing."
They arrived at San Felicity, shortly before noon. It was a very hot day, though the morning had been cool, and the boys began to appreciate the fact that they had come to a southern climate. There seemed to be no one at the little railroad station, at which they were the only passengers to leave the train. The train baggage man piled their trunks and valises in a heap on the platform, the engine gave a farewell toot, and the travelers were thus left alone, in what appeared a deserted locality.
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